Hazelwood, as I have said, is a dump, and as I zoomed past the first few blocks of dilapidated houses I felt that I had judged the creepy woods too harshly. This part of the neighborhood seemed every bit as desolate. Three of the first four street lamps I passed were busted, and the few windows that weren’t boarded up were knocked out, revealing long-abandoned interiors. A little further on, I began to see signs of human activity: for instance, the jalopy that ran a red light at 40 miles per hour, missing my back tire by a nose hair and nearly bringing a promising vigilante career to a premature end. The four fine specimens in the car thrust out various body parts and shouted their opinions about “bike-riding queers.” Their unique dialect only barely resembled the English with which I was familiar, so I allow that I might have missed their apology.
I coasted down a narrow side street, hopped off my bike and just crouched for a minute on shaking legs, trying to compose myself. All of a sudden, I heard an awful inhuman screeching. I ran in the direction of the sound halfway down the block when I heard it again, louder this time. It sounded like a cat being skinned alive. And I say that because, well…
I looked across an overgrown, rubble-strewn lot, where a row house used to be. Within the decayed ruin of the foundation were four men, probably about my age judging by their slang and the way they dressed. One of them had a long knife in one hand, and in the other the back legs of a flailing cat. I can’t tell you exactly what happened next. Hell, I might not even have known what I was doing as I did it. The only thing I’m certain of is that I gave no warning, said nothing at all until I was right on top of the one with the knife. I had him on the dirt, was straddling his ribs. He had to have dropped the knife and the cat because he was waving both of his bloody hands in front of his face, trying to ward off my fists. I used both arms, and I used them until my lungs burned and pain shot up from my split knuckles, and even then I went on pounding. I think a hand grabbed my hood and tried to drag me back, but I flung an elbow and the pulling stopped, and I went back to punching for what seemed like hours. More than once I missed that ugly head and pounded my fists straight into the ground. Eventually something hard bounced off the front of my skull and knocked me off of him. I squeezed my eyes shut from the pain and rolled sideways, instinctively trying to avoid another attack. I felt the gash rippling on my forehead and the blood seeping into my mask. For the first time, I remembered that I had powers, but my head hurt too badly to use them. Then I remembered the telescoping stun baton on my waist. I ripped it from the holster, flicked my wrist to bring it to full extension. My finger tightened on the trigger as I blindly swung it around me. I could hear the whipcracks of electricity slinging from probe to probe, see the ultra bright flashes of minute thunderbolts through my closed eyes.
When I finally got back to my feet and opened my eyes, there wasn’t anybody there to hit. I saw the the limping, bleeding cat and the fragments of cinder block that broke against my head. Aside from some footprints in the moist clay, there was no sign of the quartet of teenage sociopaths, not even the one I had pinned.
I got lucky again. Damn lucky. It was almost a repeat of the fight with the vandals. I went off half-cocked, not thinking, not even making the most of the tools I had with me. If the creep I tackled hadn’t dropped his blade, or if one of the other ones had picked it up, they might have buried it in my ribs. Or that cinder block might have been aimed from the back at the soft part of my skull and I might have gone down for good.
But some things you just react to, and there’s no helping it.
I’m a dog guy, never really liked cats. But the deep and true parts of me were not about to stand there and let that happen, even if stopping it cost me the farm. Cruelty to animals ate at me in a way that cruelty to other people just didn’t. I believe I was mad enough that if those monsters had stuck around, I might have murdered them, and only a little faster than the way they were trying to murder that cat.
The cat hissed and swiped at me when I bent down next to it, but the poor thing was too injured and weak to get away. I cradled it against my chest, stroked its back softly where the bloody fur was already matting together. I hushed it and told it that everything was going to be alright, though I had no idea how badly he was injured or where I could go for help at that hour. As I was wondering about that, something moved across my peripheral vision. For the instant my eyes caught it, I saw that it was big, the size of a man at least. The sociopaths were coming back to fight, after all. I trotted backwards, still holding the cat close, and bent down to grab the shock stick. ‘No,’ I thought. ‘Can’t be them.’ I belatedly realized that the figure, whatever it was, seemed to be loping along on four legs. It was probably a neighborhood dog on the loose. The cat hissed and yowled again, as if in sudden fear.
“Relax, buddy, you’ll be okay,” I whispered.
Something crunched with a heavy tread on the loose dirt behind me and the air filled with the roar of a hungry cougar. You hear that bloodcurdling cry once in a movie or at the zoo, and it stays with you for the rest of your life. The wildly thrashing cat slipped out of my grasp when I spun around. I didn’t look down to pick it back up, and I am ashamed to say that for several hours I did not think of that cat at all. And that sound I heard, the thing that stood before me poised to pounce, was not a mountain lion.
I told you I couldn’t remember everything that happened in the fight, but I can paint you a picture of the thing and not leave out a single detail, from the sickly yellow color of the saliva that dripped from its bear-trap mouth to the mottled grey folds of its wrinkled skin. Its whiskered, blunt-snouted skull towered more than a foot above my head. The thing stood up on two legs, though the legs were jointed in the wrong direction for a man, like the hind paws of a quadruped. The creature was mostly hairless with scattered patches of matted fur, like it had mange. Maybe it resembled a Sphynx cat, but only if Sphynx were seven feet tall with the jaws of a jaguar and long, human fingers. Let’s call a spade a spade and get it out of the way: I was staring down a werecat.
Reversing the usual order of things, an impetuous teenager decides to become a vigilante and only afterwards discovers that he has superpowers. Then things get dangerous.
An illustrated novel by Michael and Shell DiBaggio.$2.99 – Buy Book
Who is behind the bizarre chemical attacks along the railroad? Why is a metahuman terrorist group recruiting local teenagers? What is the secret behind the taunting phrase "Thorpe Was Here," left mysteriously on the tops of skyscrapers and bridges? And what gruesome beast stalks the streets of Hazelwood? Sebastian Pereira is about to find out, but the answers might kill him.
As the water-controlling psychic vigilante called Torrent, he prowls the streets of Pittsburgh, doing his best to right wrongs and keep his double life a secret. But his hometown is tougher--and weirder--than he ever imagined. With help from his paranormally gifted crush and his thrill-seeker best friend, he just might make it -- and they just might make the best superhero team in the Burgh.Buy Book ($2.99)
Meet the Characters
Gifted with the talents of psychometry and hydrokinesis, not to mention "the wisdom of the staircase", smartass teenager Sebastian Pereira has found his true calling in vigilantism. He attacks injustice with zeal whether that means defending the new girl from bullies or going goggle to goggle with the Mad Gasser of Panther Hollow. But he'll find there's more to being a hero than flashy powers and good intentions.
The Mysterious X
Sebastian's best friend, Alex Shepherd decided to join his war on crime despite having no superpowers himself. Fortunately, his skills as a boxer and his fearlessness more than make up for his lack.
The new girl in town, Evangeline's first day at school is ruined by a clique of mean girls until Sebastian comes to her rescue. Gentle, level-headed, and good-natured, she seems to be a model young lady -- but she harbors a secret: she's a talent herself. Can she and Sebastian become more than just friends, or will their double lives and outside forces conspire to keep them apart?
The sexy firebrand known only as Cascade is the spokesman of the local branch of the GPRA. A water-controlling metahuman herself, she's set her sights on Torrent. Will her seductive wiles drive a wedge between him and Evangeline? And can she recruit him into the bloody war for metahuman supremacy?
What the Readers Say
"Think X-Men meets The Incredibles"
"It was quick and entertaining, but I think there is enormous potential for a powerful societal critique coming..."
"Engaging and Exciting"
"I'm excited about where this series is going; the plot got so much deeper throughout"
-Nathaniel Taylor, author and illustrator of Simon Ragbone
Stylish and Witty"
"Although After Dark is not primarily intended to be funny, the author's style makes the relatively mundane adventures and misadventures of our want-to-be teen vigilante amusing and interesting."
Perfect For Fans Of...
Teen Superhero Comics
Do your fondest memories of Spider-Man go back to his teenage years (or include the word "Ultimate")? Were you sad when New Warriors, New Mutants, and Generation X were cancelled? After Dark will be your new comfort food.
Explore the eerie side of Pittsburgh, from the cast-off relics of the Martian invasion to the conspiracies of paranormal subversives. After Dark has tales inspired by classic weird fiction authors like Algernon Blackwood, as well as real-life Fortean occurrences.
Young Adult Novels
The Irregulars may be young and (mostly) good-looking, but they are not Chosen Ones poised to overturn a despotic, rigidly hierarchical society. And they (almost) never describe themselves while looking at their reflections in a mirror.
If you like young heroes who deal in snappy banter and wry humor and have a tendency to fall into unexpectedly crazy situations, you'll love this book.